Kosmos: A Portrait of the Russian Space Age
A review by Adrienne Miller
When I was in high school, I never thought this one particular guy had an interesting brain or was cool or whatever until too late, until I saw his "ambition" in our senior yearbook: "I want to go to space before I die." It was a statement about mortality and human dreams, and it seemed as beautiful, elegant, and profound a sentence as any eighteen-year-old had ever uttered.
In Kosmos, the vanished dream of space travel is on display in its full faded grandeur. There are no photos from space here, though, only the earthly and human-scaled objects designed to propel the Russians there. Paging through the silent pictures of rocket ships and the grim buildings in which they were manufactured, mock space station interiors, the room where cosmonauts were fitted for their space suits, one is struck by how outmoded everything seems. Every object, from the rockets pointing skyward at a museum, looking like something left over from a mid-century World's Fair, to the thermoses, from the samovar to the couch, look like somebody's idea of the year 2000 in 1960. Maybe it's true that every man-made thing is, after enough time, doomed to become kitsch. In the ultimate ironic gesture, this period in Russian history was even co-opted by Gen X. Notes Svetlana Boym in her marvelously informative introductory essay, "One of the first grand raves in Moscow was known as the Gagarin Party....Rocket parts and models of spaceships hung from the ceiling of the hall…"
Adam Bartos's photographs are ghostly and fascinatingly detached. Here's a picture: The table is set, but the room is empty. Have the guests just left, or did they never show up in the first place? Here's another picture: an empty spacesuit hanging in a vacuum chamber. Here are some more: anonymous old men, with combed hair and medals pinned to their suits. Turn to the caption pages in the middle of the book and discover that these anonymous old men were space pioneers, heroes. Maybe this book is saying something fairly complicated about context -- that rocket ships don't belong rotting at museums, and that former cosmonauts shouldn't end up as old anonymous men, sitting primly on some printed couch. Or maybe it's saying something about the limits of human dreams.
Adrienne Miller is Esquire's literary editor.
to Esquire and Save 75%
Get 12 fantastic issues of Esquire magazine
for only $8. The best culture, entertainment, style, financial advice, women
and more delivered right to your door every month ? at an incredible 81% savings
off the newsstand price! What could be better... or easier?
here to subscribe now!